Rohingya Muslims in MyanmarAs the world has begun to pay more attention to the refugee crisis concerning Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, the problem with State Chancellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s response—or lack thereof—has come under scrutiny.

The refugee crisis only illuminates the persecution of Rohingya that has been going on for decades. The U.N. reported that government troops in Myanmar have committed crimes against the minority Muslim population—such as murder, rape and arson—that have made living in their home country impossible.

Furthermore, the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar have been denied citizenship since 1982, and are not considered to be one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups.

While the military in the country denies such allegations, thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar, hoping to find an escape from the brutality that has taken over their lives. Most Rohingya flee to neighboring countries, but the brutality against the refugees has not stopped, only transitioned from one predator to another. Aljazeera reports that the head of the U.N. International Organization for Migration (IOM) is “concerned” about the violence taking place in Bangladesh against the minority Muslim population, and has every right to be.

The violence is reported to be sexual in nature and gender-targeted, which only solidifies the concerns held by world leaders that Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi is not going to openly oppose the violence being carried out by citizens of her country against the Rohingya. In fact, the State Chancellor has refused to acknowledge the ethnic cleansing for quite some time.

Human rights groups and the U.N. have called on the State Chancellor to take action and stop the senseless murder of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

Unfortunately, the politics of the situation are more complicated than it may seem.

The BBC reports that under Myanmar’s constitution, the military is a very powerful entity that prevents Myanmar from taking steps towards democracy. Despite calls by international leaders and human rights groups for Aung San Suu Kyi to denounce the violence, it is ultimately the military’s stronghold over the government that has prevented her from speaking out.

Still, many believe that the State Chancellor should be stripped of the Nobel Peace Prize that she was awarded in 1991.

Finally, after an unusual period of silence, the State Chancellor addressed the violence. Amid the confusion and horror that has become everyday life for the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi has stated the Rohingya will be allowed to return to their home country.

The road home is seemingly far-off—a result of the military’s targeted violence towards their homes, crops and other resources essential for the Rohingya’s survival in Myanmar. However, many in the international community believe the recent attention drawn to the ethnic cleansing will have a positive effect and save the lives of those who need help.

For this reason, it is imperative that the world does not forget about the genocide occurring against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. The international community must pay attention and provide any support necessary.

Jaxx Artz

Photo: Flickr

Rohingya MuslimsAs a minority group, Rohingya Muslims have been subjected to violence throughout the entirety of their existence. In what is being called “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide”, more than 400 Rohingya Muslims were killed in Burma in the month of August 2017.

The extreme violence that Rohingya Muslims have been facing in Burma has caused almost 90,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh in search of safety. The violence was reportedly set off by a group of Rohingya insurgents who attacked police posts in the Burma state of Rakhine on August 25, 2017.

Rohingya militants are being blamed by Burmese officials for burning homes and killing civilians. However, rights monitors and Rohingya Muslims argue that the Burmese Army is using this claim to force them out of Burma.

Rohingya Muslims living in Burma do not receive full citizenship rights, and they often need to seek official permission to marry or travel outside of their villages.

The violence has prompted responses from various world leaders, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who brought the matter before the United Nations General Assembly this month. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also endorsed this call.

Zarif denounced the “global silence on continuing violence against Rohingya Muslims” saying that “international action [is] crucial to prevent further ethnic cleansing—UN must rally” in a post he made on Twitter.

Additionally, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif has been encouraging Burma to investigate the alleged atrocities against the Muslims of Rohingya.

According to a United Nations spokeswoman, the Rohingya Muslims are “probably the most friendless people in the world” as they have struggled to find safety or permanent civilization in any area of the world.

While the Rohingya Muslims are facing violence, rape and injustice carried out by the Burmese army, their attempts to flee Burma are often met with more violence and brutality by human traffickers and coast guards of other nations.

This month, former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan filed a report that urged the Burmese government to restore citizenship rights, which were stripped in 1982, to the Muslims of Rohingya.

Although conditions seem nearly hopeless for Rohingya Muslims living in Burma, world leaders are working together to support this minority group. Help for Muslims of Rohingya is on the way, although it is in question whether it will arrive on time.

Kassidy Tarala

Photo: Flickr

Banning Bull Slaughter Makes Vulnerable Populations Poorer
Earlier this year, the government of Maharashtra, India, decided to ban bullock and bull slaughter. The slaughtering of cows, which are considered to be sacred in Hinduism, had already been prohibited since 1976. This new law has faced opposition from many sectors of society that claim it destroys businesses, makes farmers’ livelihoods more vulnerable, and hurts the very animals it hopes to protect.

Another argument against the law is that is promotes Hindu extremist interests over the nation’s secular principles. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the force behind the new law, argues instead that it protects religious beliefs. However, even one of the BJP’s strongest allies, the Republican Party of India (RPI), has expressed discontent with the law.

Farmers from the state have protested that banning bull slaughter means they can no longer sell their old animals that have outlived their usefulness. Many farmers count on the money made from the sale to pay back loans. In India, where huge numbers of farmer suicides have been a pressing concern, the new law has made farmers’ limited sources of income more precarious.

Some people have even argued that the law will lead to farmers simply abandoning their cattle because they cannot afford to look after them. They will be left on the streets to starve and die, or be smuggled in terrible conditions to Bangladesh, where they will be slaughtered. The very purpose of the law—to protect bulls—would be left unfulfilled.

The law has also eliminated the only type of meat poor people can afford. In India, beef is commonly called the “poor mans’ protein,” as it is much cheaper than mutton or chicken. Buffalo meat, while still legal, is predicted to become more expensive because of a lack of alternatives. In a country where more than half of children under five are malnourished, this ban is feared to increase rates of starvation and sickness.

Specific castes have also been negatively affected. The Qureshis, a Muslim community that has been synonymous with bull slaughter for generations, can no longer practice the only livelihood they know.

The Dharavi leather market has also lost its bearings. Dharavi, one of the biggest slums in Asia, obtained much of its income from its once-thriving leather industry, where workers would make wallets, belts, jackets and handbags. Now, hundreds of workers have been left jobless.

Sources: The Hindu 1, The Hindu 2, The Hindu 3, Times of India, The Independent, Al Jazeera, New York Times 1, New York Times 2
Photo: Stock Photos

boko_haram
Nigeria’s militant Islamic group, Boko Haram, has created havoc in Africa’s most populous country. The militia, whose name translates to “Western education is sin,” has kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls in the village of Chibok and has threatened to sell them as child brides. Their primary objective is to create an Islamic state that would forbid Muslims to abide by or be influenced by Western culture. Thus, schools have served as a common battlefield. Additionally, battles have occurred in churches, police stations and all those opposed to the ideas of the militants. Without a proper education, these girls will continue to suffer the consequences of extreme poverty and related health risks.

Similarly in Afghanistan, the Taliban imposed strict restrictions on women during their rule from the late 1990s to 2001. They banned women from studying in schools, working outside the homes and took away most of their behavioral and personal freedom due to an extreme interpretation of the Koran. Women were pressured into adhering to their traditional roles, being forced to stay at home to take care of the children and the house. The Taliban also was opposed to Western influence, and it banned music, movies, cosmetics and brightly colored clothing, creating laws to punish those who did not wear the proper clothing, such as the burqa, for women.

In both situations, women’s rights have been and still are on the road to being taken away. Boko Haram has been accused of having communications with and training from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Islamic Maghreb. This is also true for the Taliban, who have had immense support and imported fighters from Al-Qaeda. Both groups want to see a change in government and have Shari’a law implemented in their respective countries.

In a divided country of Christians and Muslims, Nigeria has faced many problems, despite the abundance of oil and natural resources that exist in the country. The militia mainly blames the modern and secular government for bad governance and underdevelopment. In Afghanistan, the Taliban rose after the invasion of the Soviet Union to bring back stability into the country and instill rule of law in place of corruption. The strict restrictions on women were an effect of Shari’a law.

Without education for women, the countries’ development will be hindered and the population’s health will dramatically decrease. Afghanistan already has one of the lowest Human Development Indexes in the world and suffers from a complete lack of healthcare providers and facilities. Unfortunately, both Afghanistan and Nigeria face severe challenges and a future that does not seem as bright as it could be.

Leeda Jewayni

Sources: CNN, CFR 1, CFR 2
Photo: The Star

naming_the_islamic_state
ISIS has been the name many of us have come to use over the summer as this terrorist group has come to prominence. The group is also referred to as IS or ISIL, by many government leaders.

But why discuss it at all?  Should it matter what an extremist group calls itself? Shouldn’t people be focusing on what means they are using to achieve their ends?

According to Jonah Blank, a former staffer at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “the militant organization is waging a propaganda war—and what name it goes by is part of that war.”

This group seeks to reestablish a caliphate, a mecca for Sunni Muslims all over the world run by a supreme religious and political leader. The calphi are older societies, the last of which died out with the Ottoman Empire. They are seen as the Golden Age of Islam. Muslims were at the cutting edge of art and technology. They also controlled vast amounts of political and economic power at this time.

The current attempt of reestablishment has taken place in western Iraq, eastern Syria, parts of Jordan and Turkey. This location has caused the name ISIS to become the front runner. It stands for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but the “Syria” they refer to is Greater Syria. Greater Syria is referred to by many as al-Sham in Arabic.

Al-Sham “is the classical Arabic term for Damascus and its hinterlands, and over time, it came to denote the area between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates, south of the Taurus Mountains and north of Arabian desert.”

The Obama Administration has translated the al-Sham differently to mean “the Levant” hence the president’s use of ISIL. It doesn’t have the lengthy explanation of greater Syria, but, more importantly, it also weakens the credibility of the terrorist group in a time when they are trying to recruit supporters.

As The New York Times explains again, the term Levant is “a once-common term that now has something of an antique whiff about it, like ‘the Orient.’ Many Arab nationalists and Islamist radicals disdain it.”

It seems that the President’s administration has come to agree with Jonah Blank. He looks to discredit them openly, causing confusion in the Middle East. This confusion seems to be taking effect.  Many Muslims have already turned their back on the idea of a caliphate, as many have well an established mufti, who is the highest legal authority, giving rulings on practice for the state.

Its name is become confusing, and ISIL cannot seem to decide what to call itself. Islamic scholar Juan Cole says ISISL has no real support beyond their own followers and has no real prospect of gaining the respect of the greater Sunni Muslim community. It seems that its fall might come from internal factors that the U.S. can observe and comment on from afar.

– Frederick Wood II

Sources: NPR 1, NPR 2, NPR 3, New York Times, Juan Cole
Photo: The Christian Post

muslims-in-myanmar
In the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, also known as Burma, displaced Rohingya Muslims face a severe health crisis as malnutrition spreads, and treatable illnesses and injuries go unattended.

The country’s recent history of ethnic tension has disfavored the minority Muslims, pushing them to regions along coastal Myanmar where many of the displaced are settled in refugee camps. The plight of the Rohingya has caught the attention of international aid organizations that set up medical centers and ration distribution facilities.

However, medical aid to the ostracized group was all but completely cut off by government officials who accused Medicins Sans Frontieres-Holland (Doctors Without Borders-Holland) of favoritism to Muslims in Myanmar, promoting anti-government sentiment, and ordered them to leave in February of 2014.

As a result of the expulsion, the 700,000 people that depended on MSF’s service were left without proper medical care. By late July, when the government declared that MSF could return, the Rohingya had already endured months of a bleak health crisis with no help to turn to.

In a Reuters report from one of the camps, Aisyah Begum told the story of her husband who was injured while working in the forest. The man would have been taken to the nearby MSF clinic had it been open. The couple was left with no other option but to drive two hours to the nearest private doctor in Maungdaw who then refused to help. The man eventually passed away from what was most likely a treatable infection.

Around the time MSF was granted permission to return, the United Nations publicly commented on the refugee camps’ inhumane conditions. Yanghee Lee of the UN human rights envoy for Myanmar released a 10 page report, calling the living situation of the camps’ inhabitants “deplorable,” noting concern that “the government’s plan for peaceful co-existence may likely result in a permanent segregation” of the two groups.

Ethnic tensions between the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and the dominant Rakhine Buddhists spans back a few years. It erupted in 2012, leaving 200 dead and an estimated 140,000 internally displaced – 135,000 of which were Rohingya. The clash between the ethnic groups left the bitter taste of mistrust in the mouths of both sides, with one side much more disadvantaged than the other.

The Rohingya suffer from continued apathy and exclusion on part of the Rakhine, and face the threat of violent attacks if they cross the wrong person, keeping them isolated in their lacking communities. They essentially live as prisoners, eating only donated rice and chickpeas, fishing their protein from the nearby ocean.

Ethnic persecution is systemic in Myanmar, to the point where those in the minority group are not even recognized as citizens by the government. They are classified as illegal Bengali immigrants and therefore have no legal rights or representation. They severely lack the means to sustain themselves.

Conditions have reached such a critical point in recent years that tens of thousands have tried fleeing by boat. Human Rights Watch has accused the government of leading an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Muslims in Myanmar.

“By virtue of their legal status (or lack of), the Muslim community has faced and continues to face systematic discrimination, which includes restrictions in the freedom of movement, restrictions in access to land, food, water, education and health care, and restrictions on marriages and birth registrations,” said Lee in her report.

Myanmar is a country of 55 million people. In sheer numbers alone, it is clear what the Rohingya are up against as the nation’s abhorred minority. Years of military rule subjected them to hard labor, rape, torture and relocation, extending from a 1982 citizenship law that declared them stateless. However, the increasingly democratic reform of its government brings some hope.

Many Rohingya retain complete skepticism of the future and MSF is “cautiously optimistic” about their invitation to return. However, it appears that the bind of Myanmar’s displaced Muslims may quickly improve with increased international attention and the possibility of greater involvement by the United States.

“We’re working to continually help address problems on the ground,” said Derek Mitchell, the US ambassador to Myanmar. “What we are doing out here is in anticipation of continued reform, although we need to remain patient as the country deals with increasingly difficult issues going forward.”

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: Reuters, Helsinki Times, Al Jazeera
Photo: Reuters

ramadan
Ramadan entails a month of spiritual reflection and increased devotion for practicing Muslims, and the predominant custom is fasting from dawn until sunset. But this can be a taxing requirement for those who find it difficult to feed themselves on a daily basis, such as those in the poor communities of Gambia. Luckily, the Netherlands is pitching in to help Muslims in Gambia celebrate the holy month.

The International Humanitarian Hulporganisatie Netherlands (IHHNL) donated and distributed food aid to Muslims in Gambia throughout the month of Ramadan. The items included 32 rams, 500 25-kg bags of rice, 500 five-liter gallons of cooking oil and 500 10-kg bags of sugar. IHHNL also provided a local well for the community.

The donation was made by IHHNL in collaboration with the Gambian Cemiyatul Hayr Relief Organization (CHRO), and the foodstuffs were apportioned among 23 Gambian villages. The presentation and slaughtering of the rams took place at Kiang Kwinella village in Gambia’s Lower River Region.

The joint IHHNL-CHRO program was intended to provide gifts and food to help those in need participate in the Ramadan festivities and traditions, especially considering Ramadan is a month dedicated to sharing and compassion. Alkalo Lamin Manjang, a speaker at the presentation in Kwinella village, thanked IHHNL for being a “true friend” to the poor of Gambia.

Alhagie Demba Sanyang, the Chief of Kiang Central, thanked the organization for doing “everything possible to ensure the entire district enjoys meat with their families… specially in Ramadan.” The Chief and the community presented IHHNL with a certificate of appreciation for their contributions to the poor.

The donors from IHHNL spoke of their wish to help the needy in Africa in places without war and thanked the Gambian government for such a peaceful environment where the presentation of such donations could be made possible.

The IHHNL and CHRO have been collaborating on aid efforts such as this for more than ten years. According to CHRO Country Director Musa Jallow, the IHHNL learned of the CHRO in 2003 and agreed with its operating structure. The two organizations “restarted their operations and went into formal agreement with all codes of conduct to be adhered by both organizations.” Since 2003, they have been working together to provide and distribute food aid packages to Gambians, usually during Ramadan.

Because of the IHNHL and CHRO’s efforts, even the poor and needy of Gambia can participate in the fasting of Ramadan, knowing that there will be adequate food available at nightfall.

Mari LeGagnoux

Sources: All Africa, The Point
Photo: Biyokulule

islamic relief
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims around the globe are fasting from dawn until dusk. Those fasting are reminded of the suffering of those less fortunate. Last Ramadan, 650,000 people in 25 different countries received food thanks to the efforts of Islamic Relief. This year the organization has set out again to help those in need worldwide.

In Saint Denis in Paris, the program “Tables du Ramadan” offers between 900 and 1,000 meals per night with the help of 60 volunteers. Solidarity is an important part of Ramadan for many, so the program works to bring people together and provide a space to share the meal together. Whether someone is fasting or not, and whether they are Muslim or not, everyone is welcome to come and enjoy delicious food.

Also in the spirit of Ramadan, which is about sharing without limits, 5,500 packages were sent to remand centers in France so that they know they were not forgotten in the holy month of Ramadan.

In Gaza, despite the dangerous environment, Islamic Relief is doing everything they can to help citizens. The representative of Islamic Relief France in Gaza reported the difficult situation. Electricity is only available eight hours per day, all points of entry are blocked and basic necessities are becoming more and more expensive.

Only four out of 10 citizens have access to daily food. There are emergency kits as well as food kits, which include rice, sugar, oil and lentils. Food packages are in the process of being distributed and emergency kits are ready to be sent out.

French Islamic Relief in Morocco teamed up with two other local organizations to help those living in poverty, orphans, elderly people and widows. So far 1,315 families have been helped equating to almost 7,890 people. Packages including sugar, flour, oil, chickpeas, lentils, vermicelli rice and dates have been distributed to those in need.  A Moroccan widow, Fatna, is in her sixties. She has five kids, but due to her health condition, she cannot work. She says she does not know what she would do without the help she has received during the holiday month, and is extremely grateful.

Many more citizens, both Muslim and not, are able to break their fast with delicious meals thanks to Islamic Reliefs efforts around the world.

– Kim Tierney

Sources: Youphil, Secours Islamique, Islamic Relief, Le Matin, AJIB, Islam & Info
Photo: Islamic Relief

asylum in brazil
The World Cup is over for another four years, and while Germany celebrates and fans from all over the world return home, at least 200 Muslims from Ghana are seeking asylum in Brazil.

The Ghanaians, who went to Brazil as tourists supporting their country in the World Cup, claim that they are afraid to return home due to violence in Ghana stemming from religious conflict. The Ghanaian government has released a statement saying that there is no such violence in the country.

The religious makeup of Ghana is 71 percent Christian, 18 percent Muslim and 5 percent indigenous beliefs. The Muslim population resides primarily in northern Ghana, which coincidentally is also where poverty rates are highest. Southern Ghana has seen promising economic growth in the past 30 years and in 2011 the country received the status of lower middle class, but poverty in the north is declining at a much slower rate.

A major reason for this is little economic opportunity outside of agriculture, and a tendency for droughts and food shortages. Farmers in the north do not have access to modern technology that would result in higher crop yields.

The Ghanaians have been allowed to stay in Brazil for now, while the Justice Ministry listens to their cases and makes rulings. The Brazilian city in which many have applied to live, Caxias do Sul, is a very prosperous one and a magnet for foreign workers. It is more than 1000 miles away from where Ghana’s national team, the Black Stars, competed in the tournament. The Stars were ousted early on after losing to both the USA and Portugal.

The number of Ghanaians seeking asylum in Brazil could jump to 1000 now that the World Cup is over, but to be given asylum they will have to prove that conditions in their home country are unsafe. Ghana is frequently cited as one of Africa’s most peaceful nations, with cooperation between Muslims and Christians. However, those seeking asylum claim that the conflict and aggression is between different Muslim factions and not other religions. Whether or not their claims are true or they are simply searching for a new life with better economic opportunity remains to be seen. The Ghanaian government has proclaimed that they are scandalized by the ordeal.

While the Justice Ministry reviews these cases there are many Syrians in Brazil seeking asylum for the same reasons. Those who live in Caxias do Sul do not seem particularly open to the idea of hundreds of new residents, saying that the area is overcrowded as it is.

– Taylor Lovett

Sources: New York Times, BBC, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: London Evening Standard

France's face veil ban
The European Court of Human Rights upheld France’s face veil ban on the wearing of face-covering veils in public settings. The ban, which went into effect three years ago, has caused widespread backlash from Muslim communities in France, which claim the ban imposes on their religious freedom and identity. Labeled as a means to help protect public safety and bridge social gaps, the imposition of the ban was strictly “due to the concealment of the face” and had no correlation with religious animosity, according to the Court.

A woman by the alias of S.A.S. testified against France’s face veil ban in court. A university-educated woman and French citizen, S.A.S. told the courts that she voluntarily wore the veils (the niqab, which leaves the eyes exposed, and the burqa, which covers the body from head-to-toe) and felt no pressure from her husband to wear the dress in public. S.A.S. wished to wear the veils during certain circumstances and felt the ban imposed on her religious obligation to do so.

At the time it was enacted, the Interior Ministry in Paris estimated only around 2,000 women in France still wore the niqab. This is a considerably low number for France’s Muslim community, which — at up to six million — is Europe’s largest. Only about hundreds of women have been fined for wearing the veil, which is usually at around 150 euros, or $215 US dollars.

The European Court, while aware the ban did affect certain members of the Muslim community specifically, upheld it on account of the veil’s restriction from those wearing it to show their face, which is considered a social right and safety concern. While the court denied the ban’s justification on improving public safety or women’s rights, they did agree that it improved social cohesion.

“Some people now feel entitled to attack women wearing the veil even though the infringement is no more severe than, say, a parking ticket,”  Ray said.

Nevertheless, the French government has remained satisfied with the ruling, claiming it a victory for “gender equality.”

Nick Magnanti

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, Mail Online, The New York Times
Photo: Telegraph